Killer Whale Speaks Foreign Language
A solitary killer whale (Orcinus orca) in Vancouver Island's Nootka Sound appears to mimic the call of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), which are also found there.
The animal, christened Luna, was separated from the rest of the group during its childhood, according to the scientists led by Andrew Foote from the University of Durham, and from then on grew up isolated from its own kind. Therefore, it did not learn the typical sound repertoire of its original school of whales, but a potpourri of different sounds - including the characteristic barking of sea lions. The researchers discovered this imitation rather by accident when they acoustically evaluated underwater recordings of the animal.
They repeatedly encountered sea lion calls, which, however, were not emitted in the typical frequency spectra of the seals and often appeared between species-specific orca tones. In addition, Foote and his colleagues repeatedly recorded a bark when no sea lion was within range of the microphones - but Luna was. The isolated killer whale also utters species-specific sounds, but with the same vocal characteristics it uses them in different contexts compared to the corresponding sounds of its former families. He likely learned them before his split, but not the associated group-specific uses, the researchers say
Luna is more likely to be around sea lions, which are normally a killer whale's prey range, according to Foote's team. The researchers did not say whether the polyglot whale would refrain from this hunt because of its foreign language skills.